App Review: Gum

I am intrigued by ways in which social media and technology bridge the gaps between real space and virtual space. So, augmented reality apps are interesting (if still a bit complicated to use). Virtual reality ideas pique my interest. So when I saw someone share out about the app, Gum, I thought I would give it a shot.

Gum is an app that uses the bar codes on products (such as food) as a means to leave comments and texts related to those products. So, for example, if I open up the Gum app and connect it to the bar code of my older son’s favorite food — Ramen Noodles, chicken-flavor — I can leave some thoughts about the noodles. Anyone who uses the Gum app and scans in the bar code of Ramen Noodles (chicken) will now see the comment I left there about alternative uses for Ramen noodles.

And they can leave their own comment, too.

(Try scanning the bar code here of my Ramen Noodle package)

I left a question on the other kid-fave food in our house — Annie’s Mac and Cheese (purple box). Maybe someone will answer it in the future, using the Gum app. I’ll get a message if someone does. (I hope someone does).

(Try scanning the bar code of my Annie’s Mac and Cheese box)

I had thought, initially, that I could maybe upload an image with my text (and even crafted a comic for the noodles), but I guess it is just text connections across social media space with real objects. I’m still interested, and wonder how a network like CLMOOC might tap and hack into this kind of app for some connected project. How might we riff together with a connection to physical space with Gum?

Peace (yum … gum),


Book Review: The Secrets of Solace

My son and I stumbled into The Mark of the Dragonfly at our local library by sheer chance. The cover caught my eye. Sometimes, that’s enough. But the story kept us intrigued, as writer Jaleigh Johnson wove a tapestry of a world that was as immersive fiction, as if Johnson had stumbled into the lands only to tell us the story. In this place, magical and mysterious objects fall from the sky in a meteor scrap fields — things from other planets, perhaps. There is a lot not yet known in this story Johnson is telling of this place.

Now comes The Secrets of Solace, and while this young adult novel (we have an advance copy thanks to my wife, a librarian who visited a conference and came home loaded with books) is not a true sequel to The Mark of the Dragonfly, it is still set in the same world, and the war that had begun in the earlier book is now the backdrop for The Secrets of Solace.

PictureJohnson has not just woven a world out of imagination, she also pays keen attention to character development. Here, we have Lina, an archivist apprentice, who is hiding a secret from her people: the discovery of an airship buried deep in their mountain stronghold. Another character, Ozben, is a prince in hiding, and together, Lina and Ozben must solve the mystery of this ship in order to bring an end to the war that threatens to unravel the entire world.

With mystery and adventure and solid writing, Johnson hooks the reader early with character backstories and then steps on the gas with thrilling adventures, and once you know the ship, you will never look at your car or an airplane the same way again.

Peace (in all the worlds),

I Am The Stamp: A #CLMOOC Poem Becomes Song

Postcard mashup

One of my favorite post-CLMOOC (Connected Learning MOOC) connections is the Postcard Project. I’ve written about it before. Last week, Wendy Taleo wrote a very interesting poem, after “reading” the stamps on the postcards making their way to Australia.

Read Wendy’s poem.

I wasn’t the only one who wondered of Wendy’s poem could be remixed into a song. Ron L., one of my regular musical companions and gifted artist, also had the same idea. So I took a chance at it, and boy, it was a bit more difficult than I thought. Mainly, I had some struggles because they were Wendy’s words. I didn’t want to change what she wrote too much ( I did ask her permission to remix and she graciously gave me the go-ahead, noting too that all of her material is Creative Common licensed.) I tinkered with words and phrases.

Turning Wendy poem into Song to sing

The final paper had lots more of those scratches. The difficulty was finding rhyme and rhythm to my guitar part, while still maintaining the Wendy-vibe of the poem. The result was a chorus that I wrote, and then a sort of Dylan-like singing of the verses to make them fit into the structure. Some parts work better than others, as song, in my opinion, and I wish it all worked better than it did.

I told Wendy and Ron I would try to make a demo of whatever I came up with. Here it is:

Still, despite my own “hearing what could have been better in my recording,” I love the concept of a song for the stamps on the postcards that we send, and the personification of the object as it travels through the world, bringing words and stories and art to each of us in the mix.

Thanks, Wendy!

Peace (sing it loud),

Graphic Novel Review: March (Book One)

I know a bit about John Lewis just from my various readings about the Civil Rights, and even into the modern day. Lewis is one of those who led the floor fight on gun control this past year. But this first in a series of biographical graphic novels about John Lewis’ life, called March, was a powerful reminder of why change was needed in our country to end legal segregation and how brave the people were who fought for those changes.

Lewis, who remains an influential Congressman in the United States House of Representatives, was at the forefront of student demonstrations in Nashville and communities around the South, particularly as part of the protests to test the limits of the Jim Crow laws at lunch counters.

The overarching narrative of this series of graphic novels is the March on Selma, but this first book is more about Lewis as a young man, growing up on a farm and beginning to not just notice the racial injustice of the world. He also begins to see his won part in bringing it to an end. Or at least, trying to.

March (Book One) is a powerful story, written well and drawn in black and white ink. I’d be tempted to bring this in as part of our work around Civil Rights with our reading of The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963 but some of the language in this graphic novel has me a little antsy about that for my white, suburban classroom of sixth graders. Instead, I might pick and choose some sections, particularly where it connects to the lunch counter protests and the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, which gets references in some of the primary source materials we read in class around the Civil Rights Movement.

I since read the second March book (I believe a third is just out) and found it just as engaging, if not more, than the first book. Even though I know how the Selma March ends and how its legacy ripples into the present, I am curious to go deeper into John Lewis’ story, to better understand the man and his deeds, and the fabric of our country.

Peace (let it be so),

Ways to Stay Connected in the #CLMOOC Universe

Clmooc extends

As part of the final newsletter of CLMOOC 2016, we compiled a list of ways for folks in CLMOOC (even on the periphery) to remain connected throughout the year, and beyond the summer. I wanted to share that list here.

Throughout the Year There are many ways to stay engaged with CLMOOC’s connected community and beyond. Here are a few options to consider to remain active and connected with the people and the spirit of CLMOOC as summer fades away:

Peace (is stronger with all of us),

Slice of Life: Pitching Relief

hacking bball

(A project I made in CLMOOC a few years ago, with Jim as the inspiration)

We arrived, my son and I, by bike, on the field, just before 5:30 p.m. with baseball gloves in a backpack. It was Monday night, time for the thrice-weekly Summer Ball pick-up game fun by our neighbor, Jim. But no Jim. Instead, a sign hanging on the fence, with Jim’s scratchy writing, said “Jim has some family business. Equipment in the green box. Have fun.”

Jim left all of his equipment at the field, and I was the only adult around. All the other kids — about 14 of them by now — had come by bike or their parents had dropped them off, and left. I had brought a new book with me, thinking I would enjoy some reading time while Jim led the kids in the craziness of baseball in summer. Sometimes, there can be nearly 30 kids on the field.

“I guess we can still play?” one older kid said, almost uncertainly. “Jim left the stuff. And a note.”

“OK,” another responded, as two younger kids grabbed the bases and began to unplug the field in order to anchor the bases at first, second and third. “We can make teams.”

“We just need someone to pitch,” the older one explained. In Summer Ball, Jim always pitches, to keep the game moving along and avoid squabbled over the pitching mound.

I stepped up in the quiet. They were looking at me, anyway. “I’ll pitch,” I said, putting the book away and taking out my glove, which I had brought just in case Jim needed a catcher. I stretched my arm, trying to remember the last time I pitched to kids. At least a year or so. I didn’t coach this past spring.

It showed. But I kept at it for nearly two hours, one pitch after another (a few out of control, but no kids were hurt) and they were pretty good-natured about it. The kids just wanted to play, so they just let me pitch. They hit and hit and hit, with the older kids cranking a few homerooms over the fence. They do that to Jim, too, so I didn’t feel so bad.

“This arm is going to hurt in the morning,” I told my son, who just laughed as I kept stretching after the game. I was right. My arm hurts this morning. Soreness in the shoulder. But they got to play baseball on an August summer evening and I got to go in as relief for Jim. As a reward, my son and I stopped for ice cream on the way home.

Some things are worth celebrating …

Peace (on the mound),

Appreciate the Unexpected: Haiku Call/Response

Sunday morning. I see my friend Ray is sharing a haiku. It’s about jazz. I can’t resist. I riff off his poem, make my own and send it out. It starts there and then expands into something wonderful: a day of writing and sharing haiku.

I tried to curate the many strands as best as I could here:

Peace (words matter),

At This Camp, Movies Get Made

Making Movies at Camp

My youngest son attended a day camp all last week, writing and shooting and editing and producing short films over five days. on Friday, family members were invited in to watch the results, and the movies were not only entertaining, but pretty well done, given constraints (of locations and time and props). The camp, at a local Montessori School, borrowed high-quality video cameras from the local Cable Access Station (which will showcase the short films on its television channel and online sites). You can see the difference — the video is rich and professional grade quality.

The camp facilitators let the kids do all of the heavy lifting — writing the scripts, setting up the cameras, and editing with iMovie. My son has done most of these things before — he loves to make his own movies — but it was nice to have him in a group, working with other kids and being creative. I don’t think he wrote all that much, though, which is too bad.

There were three short narrative films (including one very intense one about a puppet and a cruel puppeteer that had the audience in silent wonder) and a few music videos, most using Green Screen effects. Later, the videos will be hosted online. I’ll share out when that happens, in case you are interested in what kids can do with cameras and iMovie and imagination.

Peace (from small screen to real life),

Book Review: The Black Reckoning

(This review has been in my draft bin since Spring)

Now, this is how you write the last of a trilogy. John Stephens began this story of three siblings and three books of magic with The Emerald Atlas, which my son and I read and were hooked, and the series has now come to a close with The Black Reckoning.  In between, there was The Fire Chronicle. The series is called The Books of Beginning, due to the mythology of the three books themselves — one of which transports people through time; another of which brings people back from death; and the third, which is the center of the last book, gives power to the Keeper over the Land of the Dead.

While there are so many echoes of other stories here — from Harry Potter to The Lightning Thief and beyond — Stephens keeps the narrative fresh and fast-moving, spending ample time on the development of characters — the three children: Kate, Michael an Emma. All are changed by the experiences of the books and Stephens brings the story to a satisfying close with a few twists in the end to keep it from becoming too predictable.

If you have readers looking for an adventure, get them started on The Emerald Atlas. They will surely be hooked for the trilogy. I have a student waiting, somewhat impatiently, for me to finish The Black Reckoning so he can dive in to the story. He’ll be happy to see me today.

Peace (in the story),